FRENCH FOLLY

Heidi and her Sealine C330 head off on a trip through the French canals, but first they must cross the Chan­nel

Motorboat & Yachting - - Our Boats -

Over the win­ter we looked into tak­ing Chi­laxin through the French wa­ter­ways to the Mediter­ranean. She is the max­i­mum size to get through the bridges on some of the canals. The air draught on the Sealine C330 is 11ft 4in (3.47m). The max­i­mum bridge height on the route we are tak­ing is 11ft 5in (3.5m), so I get the feel­ing we are go­ing to have plenty of mo­ments hold­ing our breath!

Be­fore we even get to that point, we have to work out the route, the num­ber of miles, locks, what to take and, vi­tally, how to get fuel!

Start­ing from Brix­ham MDL Ma­rina (our home port), we will head to Guernsey and on to France – Saint-vaast-la-hougue, then Le Havre, con­tin­u­ing up the Seine to Paris, and on­wards un­til we reach Canal du Lo­ing, Canal de Braire, Canal Lat­eral, Canal du Cen­tre, fol­lowed by the river Saône to Lyon and then, fi­nally, the Rhône to Mont­pel­lier. Af­ter that, if time and funds al­low, we will head to Barcelona and onto the Balearics be­fore head­ing home.

THE JOUR­NEY BE­GINS

Our cruise starts with a long week­end spent with the Brix­ham Bay Hop­pers (an an­nual event) that in­volves 13 boats, in­clud­ing five power­boats, head­ing across to Guernsey.

Ev­ery­one has a great time ex­plor­ing and having long chats over de­li­cious meals – China Red on the seafront is one of our favourites. La Perla restau­rant is a must – they cope very well with 36 noisy sailors! You have to choose your menu first but it’s al­ways ex­cel­lent food and a fab­u­lous price.

We pre-booked our berths at Vic­to­ria Ma­rina, who are al­ways ex­tremely help­ful. If you want to be moored in the in­ner har­bour, you will have to plan your jour­ney to make sure you are able to get over the sill (their web­site gives you tide times and ac­cess de­tails for the in­ner har­bour). This pro­vides you with much more shel­ter plus elec­tric­ity and wa­ter.

If you are not in need of th­ese ser­vices, the outer har­bour is fine (we have been to both). You are rafted on pon­toons and it’s pos­si­ble to get wa­ter across to your boat if you are close enough. The ma­rina’s shower blocks ac­com­mo­date both ar­eas and are al­ways clean with plenty of hot running wa­ter.

Some­thing I re­ally like about the port au­thor­i­ties in Guernsey is that they come out to greet you in a lit­tle RIB and show you to your berth, which saves much of the guess work and con­fu­sion.

It's def­i­nitely a good idea to fill up with fuel in Guernsey – it is far cheaper here than on the main­land. There are three pumps, mean­ing there is very rarely a queue.

Af­ter two nights we de­cide to leave a day early and break up our jour­ney to Le Havre. We find the port of Saint-vaast, around the head­land from Alder­ney on the French coast, and al­most half­way to Le Havre.

We were a lit­tle beaten up on the cross­ing to Guernsey and hope this one will be bet­ter, but we are wrong! We leave Guernsey shrouded in fog and head into rough seas be­tween Alder­ney and France. Thank­fully we are ready for them and take them in our stride.

Saint-vaast is a nice port, tucked away and

It’ s a good idea to fill up with fuel in Guernsey–it’ s far cheaper than the main­land

well pro­tected. There is a lock to the en­trance but their web­site gives all the tide and gate open­ings. No English is spo­ken but if you email for a book­ing (Google Trans­late is my new best friend) you will have no prob­lems.

It is also a very pretty town with lots of restau­rants, bars and shops in­clud­ing two butch­ers, a bak­ers and a tiny gro­cer. Some­thing we no­ticed this year is how ex­pen­sive food has be­come. It was also a shock when we filled the boat up with Ga­soil – €1.60 per litre!

Now we are in French wa­ters, our cour­tesy flag is fly­ing. We also have our VNF péage plai­sance to al­low us to travel the coast and in­land wa­ter­ways. Visit the VNF web­site for de­tails of all the prices (www.vnf.fr).

The fi­nal leg across the bay is past Caen and Cher­bourg, which is pretty much a straight line, al­though it still takes us around three hours to com­plete and reach Le Havre.

BUMPY START

We head out of Saint-vaast as soon as the lock opens at mid­day. We are ex­pect­ing the sea to be busy with plea­sure boats, fer­ries and con­tainer ships, how­ever we only see two con­tainer ships and a cou­ple of yachts just as we get to Le Havre.

The trip across is very easy de­spite be­ing bumpy in places, tak­ing me off my feet at one point. We en­ter Le Havre and head to the vis­i­tors’ moor­ings. The wind has picked up and mak­ing moor­ing quite awk­ward. Some French guys try to help but one pulls the bow line too tight and Chi­laxin swings round and hits the pon­toon. We aren’t happy as it has added more dam­age to a patch that was bumped dur­ing the win­ter storms, but we re­alise that she’s only go­ing to get more knocks and bruises over the com­ing miles, and de­cide to set­tle in for the night.

With MDL Mari­nas be­ing part of the Free­dom Pass and Passe­port Es­cale group, we get to en­joy a free night – per­fect! The shower block and fa­cil­i­ties are a bit of a trek from our moor­ing so we de­cide to use the boat for the night. Once we (and the boat) are clean and tidy, we head into town for din­ner.

Many of the restau­rants and bars ap­pear to be closed. We re­alise we have ar­rived on a Mon­day and many places, as they are open all week­end, close on this day. Even­tu­ally we stum­ble across a small In­dian restau­rant – the Taj Ma­hal. It’s nearly 8.30pm so we de­cide to sit and en­joy the ex­cel­lent ser­vice, lovely food and a pint or two of well-needed beer be­fore head­ing back to the boat for an early night as we have a big day ahead in store.

Tomorrow we start our jour­ney to Paris, along the Seine – Chi­laxin’s first time on a river and the be­gin­ning of a jour­ney that is sure to bring ad­ven­ture and chal­lenges. Heidi Hasler

along­side in St Peter Port, Guernsey Chi­laxin Heidi’s charm­ing home port of MDL Brix­ham

The im­pos­ing ar­chi­tec­ture of Le Havre Kev takes the wheel as they pass Cher­bourg The tran­quil ma­rina basin at Saint-vaast

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